In more polite societies of the past, a gentleman always opened doors for women. Some say the practice dates to medieval times, when long and heavy dresses made getting through doors difficult. Chivalrous men of the day always assisted a lady in need. Today, of course, people kindly open doors for others, men and women, but this “ladies first” custom bothered Theophilus Van Kannel, so he invented the first revolving door in 1888 to allow women to fend for themselves.
On 7 August 1888, the Philadelphia inventor was awarded US Patent No. 387571 for a “storm-door structure” we now know as the revolving door. In 1899, the first revolving door whisked customers into Rector's, an upscale restaurant in New York City's Times Square. The door was made of wood and included weather stripping to help keep dust, wind, and noise out of the building.
A man's love for revolving doors:
- Van Kannel created the Van Kannel Revolving Door Co., but sold it a few years later, in 1907, to International Steel (known today as the International Revolving Door Co.).
- Van Kannel was recognized both during his lifetime and posthumously. In 1889, he received Philadelphia's John Scott Medal in recognition of the door’s usefulness to society. In 2007, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
- Van Kannel, a confirmed bachelor who died in 1919 at age 78, spent most of his life focused on revolving doors. Today, they’ve become an important security feature in airports and detention centers. Some feature facial recognition surveillance systems or chemical detection abilities.